The Beta 1 version of Microsoft Exchange Server 12, Microsoft's upcoming messaging server, has shipped to approximately 1400 beta testers, the software giant revealed today. Exchange 12, or E12 as the release is currently known, will ship in a wider Beta 2 release by mid-2006 and will ship to customers in late 2006 or early 2007, according to the company.

"With Exchange 12, we're focused on three areas," Megan Kidd, a senior Exchange product manager told me during a recent briefing. "We're reducing the cost and complexity of managing a messaging system, giving more control to IT administrators. We're providing more access to information worker Inboxes, and we're increasing the security and compliance features of the product." Kidd noted that the Beta 1 release is not feature complete and that the company will soon announce its final name for the product. "Stay tuned for that," she said.

In an earlier briefing, Microsoft corporate vice president David Thompson, who runs the Exchange Server Product Group, told me that email had evolved into a corporate tool as important as in-person meetings and the phone. As a result, Exchange 12 will provide various new capabilities, such as Unified Messaging (UM), in which PBX phone messages and faxes are routed through the server, and better integration with mobile devices. "E12 is the most customer-focused product we've ever put together," Thompson told me.

E12 Beta 1 includes new features sure to please email administrators. The product has been redesigned with a role-based infrastructure and components that let you install, on the fly, only those features that the server needs. The roles E12 supports include Edge Transport (SMTP gateway), Hub Transport (bridgehead), Mailbox Server, Client Access Server (for Outlook Web Access--OWA, Remote Procedure Call--RPC--over HTTP, IMAP, POP, and Web services), and UM (VoIP, PBX, fax, and voice mail). Additionally, a new Microsoft Shell-based Exchange Management Shell (EMS) allows administrators to automate or script everything E12 can do. Jeff Ressler, director of product planning for Exchange, told me that E12's command-line environment actually offers a subset of the features available through the new GUI tools.

There's a lot more to say about E12, so I'll have a full write-up next week in Windows IT Pro UPDATE.